Day four of crossing the Indian Ocean from the Maldives to Seychelles, and it’s Renee’s turn to keep night watch. The scene is dark, but at the horizon where the sea meets the sky, she notices movement. The radar corroborates her suspicions and displays “CLAUDIA,” a vessel less than 10 meters in length. Aware that pirates are known to patrol these waters, she wakes her husband to alert him of the situation. They are a cruising family with two teenagers and no weapons on board, so they spend the night in the cockpit in anticipation of a pirate attack. Fortunately, the sun rises without incident and they continue pushing forward to Seychelles, but Renee can’t shake the feeling that someone is stalking them.
Cruisers all over the world have pondered piracy at some point during their adventures, and for good reason--modern pirates are no joke. Gone are the days of large crews wielding swords and searching for gold. Today, sleek motor-powered skiffs enable pirates to move fast and attack ships by surprise. The smaller crews are typically organized and well-armed, and their artillery can include machine guns, grenades, and more. Luckily for liveaboards, most pirate attacks target large shipping and industrial vessels, where two or three pirates can quickly board, ransack, and escape with valuables--but that’s not to say that cruising vessels are immune. Read ahead to learn more about modern piracy tactics and the small steps you can take to give you peace of mind when navigating foreign waters.
Where are pirates active?
There are three regions that sailors should be familiar with when it comes to pirates. The Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea already have notoriety as areas prone to pirate attacks, thanks to the infamous Somali pirates that arose in response to political and economic unrest in the early 2000s. The Gulf of Guinea has also gained a reputation for maritime crime since 2011, when Nigerian pirates began attacking ships and stealing oil cargo passing through their territorial waters. Pirates are also scattered around southeast Asia, with a particular concentration in Indonesia’s Strait of Malacca. The aforementioned areas are all located along popular shipping routes, and the main targets are shipping vessels transporting valuable goods. However, sailors and superyachts should still be on high alert when cruising these regions, and should always 1) consult local authorities about recent pirate encounters, and 2) have their radio accessible should a pirate attack occur on their ship or a nearby vessel.
Piracy Reporting Center
An essential resource for understanding the threat of pirates in a region is the Piracy Reporting Center (PRC), organized by the International Maritime Bureau. The PRC is a streamlined, one-stop shop for addressing pirate attacks. Their website explains:
“PRC acts as a single point of contact for shipmasters anywhere in the world whose vessels have been attacked or robbed by pirates. All information received is immediately relayed to the local law enforcement agencies requesting assistance. Information is also immediately broadcast to all vessels in the Ocean region, providing vital intelligence and increasing awareness.”
The International Maritime Bureau also publishes an interactive Piracy and Armed Robbery Map, which displays all pirate encounters reported that year, from attempted attacks to hijacking. Other resources on the IMB website include a breakdown of Piracy and Armed Robbery Prone Areas and Warnings, 24-Hour Maritime Security Hotline, and incident reporting online.
If you are planning a voyage in waters where maritime crime is a possibility and you have the funds, then you may want to consider hiring a private maritime security company to accompany you. These companies typically provide armed guards specially trained to confront and deter pirates from attacking your ship. Some companies even offer training on safety, negotiation, ship arrest support, and more. For example, Maritime Asset Security and Training was one of the first companies to “legally place private armed guards on yachts and commercial ships,” according to their website. Their website is full of resources and information concerning different types of pirate attacks and is worth perusing if you want to feel prepared for any situation. Their services may come with a high price tag, but can be the difference between suffering an attack and arriving safely to your destination.
So can you do anything?
Everyday sailors and liveaboards are probably asking themselves right now if there’s anything they can do to protect themselves and their loved ones from a pirate attack. Although it's difficult to prepare for the unknown, the captain should start by consulting with local coastal authorities and reviewing the IMB piracy map to see if any attacks have occurred in recent years. Then, having a conversation with your crew and passengers about potential pirate attacks is essential. You should outline a pirate response plan, explaining each person’s responsibility in the situation and highlighting secure hiding spots. A distress call should be sent over the radio if a pirate encounter is imminent. Encourage your crew to report any suspicious movement on the water during lookout shifts, even if it turns out to be nothing.
Political unrest and economic instability are the two main factors driving modern pirates, so we shouldn’t expect to see piracy eliminated anytime soon. In fact, some insurance companies will cover pirate attacks under cargo insurance to cover losses on shipping vessels. As with all marine insurance policies, it is important to read your policy thoroughly and speak to a company representative to understand the underwriting included in your contract. If your policy covers international waters, then it may help you cope with losses incurred due to a pirate attack
So, are pirates still a thing in 2022?
Yes, absolutely. Pirates may no longer pillage royal navy vessels, but they are patrolling bodies of water in search of new treasures: valuable goods, technology, and hard cash. The majority of modern-day pirates have turned to piracy due to a lack of ethical employment opportunities, and are the product of their nations’ broken economic and political systems. Organizations and governments are working to suppress piracy today, but piracy will only be truly eradicated once more equitable living conditions are achieved for these communities.